A class action lawsuit filed Monday by high-profile civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Bradley Gage alleges that the Beverly Hills Police Department has been racially profiling Black people at disproportionate rates under the guise of a special task force program.
The lawsuit alleges that the police department, which started the Rodeo Drive Force last year, arrested 106 people—105 of whom were Black and one whom was Latino “who looked Black” between March 1, 2020 and July 2021. Gage said he received the arrest figures from unidentified, retired Beverly Hills police officers, who were appalled by the task force’s actions, the Los Angeles Times reports.
During the 16 months that the task force was active, Crump and Gage say officers arrested Black people for roller skating, riding a scooter, jay walking a few feet outside of the cross walk, and driving in the wealthy city. “The ‘crimes’ were fabricated, and if a white person engaged in such acts, he or she would not have been arrested,” the lawsuit states.
Crump and Gage, who have represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and others killed by police, discussed the lawsuit on Wednesday during a press conference in Beverly Hills, KTLA reports.
“You had to be intentional to try to arrest [that] many Black people in Beverly Hills,” Crump said.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jasmine Williams and her boyfriend Khalil White, who were visiting the popular shopping destination while they were on vacation from Philadelphia last September. The couple was arrested on suspicion of riding scooters on a sidewalk and resisting arrest.
Crump and Gage highlighted their experience during Wednesday’s press conference.
“I was scared,” Williams said Wednesday. “I’ve never been to jail in my life. So for me to be in there, to go from me being on vacation to having my freedom snatched from me in seconds, it was horrifying.”
In a statement, Beverly Hills Police Chief Dominick Rivetti said his department created the task force in response to an influx of calls for service in the area for crimes like burglaries, shoplifting, and pedestrian and vehicle code violations. During that time, the task force recovered at least 13 loaded firearms and more than $250,000 in cash and fraudulent EDD cards, he said. Rivetti added that “this is unprecedented in the history of Beverly Hills.”
“Our department’s practice is to contact and question individuals when we believe they may be involved in criminal activity or another violation of the law,” Rivetti said.
This isn’t the first time Beverly Hills officials have faced criticism. Officials were condemned last summer for filing misdemeanor curfew violation charges against several people “involved in a comparatively calm June protest.” (Los Angeles declined to charge similarly misdemeanor charges.)
The lawsuit, which says “Beverly Hills has a history of racial profiling” Black people, also pointed out the experience of Salehe Bembury, who was the vice president of mens footwear at Versace when he was stopped for allegedly jaywalking after shopping at the Versace store on Rodeo Drive last October. Bembury released a series of posts on Instagram in which he alleged police officers questioned him on the street and demanded his ID.
The lawsuit also notes that the department’s previous chief, Sandra Spagnoli, retired in 2020 amid allegations that she made racist remarks to subordinate officers and had sex with subordinates who were later promoted. Spagnoli, who became the first female police chief in the city’s history in 2016, denied the claims, which were brought by employees, but the city settled many of the lawsuits by paying out millions of dollars.
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